New solution for monitoring tailings dams

2nd June 2020 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

New solution for monitoring tailings dams

Tailings dam.
Photo by: Creamer Media

JOHANNESURG ( – The tragic tailings dam breach in Brazil that killed more than 270 people has focused the world of mining on making tailings dams safe.

Earlier this year, and environmental organisation Grid-Arendal launched the world’s first publicly accessible global database of mine tailings storage facilities with support from the United Nations Environment Programme.

Now global, mobile satellite communications Inmarsat has announced the launch of a new Internet of Things solution for monitoring mining tailings storage facilities. It allows users to view detailed information on more than 1 900 tailings dams, categorised by location, company, dam type, height, volume and risk, among other factors.

Tailings Insight comes in two versions in support of mining companies looking to improve data governance and transparency, removing many of the challenges related to data governance and ensuring that mining companies have visibility across global tailings portfolios in one place.

Commenting on the update, Inmarsat mining innovation director Joe Carr said it was clear that it was not about a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Miners have explained that there are a myriad of different approaches to tailings monitoring taking place every day,” he said in a release to Mining Weekly.

Many miners, Carr added, lacked the reliable site-level connectivity required to enable real-time monitoring and management, though on some sites, some companies had this. The common need was a platform to help bring all of their data together.

This was why Inmarsat had created two propositions, to help mining companies future-proof themselves and respond to the upcoming changes to tailings regulation globally.

They could be used in conjunction with each other at different sites across a global portfolio and upgrading from one to the other was easy.

The global tailings portal of Norway-based environmental organisation Grid-Arendal forms part of an initiative backed by a $13-trillion fund and led by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish National Pension Funds’ Council on Ethics and gives viewers insight into location, company, dam type, height, volume and risk.

Its launch coincided with the first anniversary of the Brumadinho tailings dam collapse, after which a group of institutional investors asked 726 of the world’s largest mining companies to disclose details of their tailing dams. The Brumadinho dam disaster occurred on 25 January 2019 when Dam I, a tailings storage facility at an iron-ore mine, in Minas Gerais, failed catastrophically.

Safer tailings storage facilities can be achieved when mine owners, contractors and engineering consultants work closely together, said SRK Consulting senior geotechnical engineer Linda Spies after a recent Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy conference focusing on tailings dams.

With controls becoming very strict, mining companies need greater assurance that their tailings dams are safe so that they can, in turn, assure their investors.